So you’ve finished your book. Now what? How do you start researching literary agents who will want to represent your novel, memoir, or nonfiction book? Finding a literary agent is tough, but every year, writers just like you are landing reputable agents. Writer’s Relief can do the literary agent research for you if you don’t have the time or would rather be writing than sifting through market books. But if you’re planning to find a literary agent on your own, here’s how to get started!
Step 1: Finish your novel or memoir. Literary agents are not interested in ideas for books (unless you’re aiming for a specific nonfiction market, in which case a book proposal is appropriate). Have a complete and polished manuscript ready, and make doubly sure the submission is perfect.
Step 2: Get your bearings in the publishing industry. Get to know the market you’re targeting—the terminology, the key agencies, the ins and outs of contracts and rights, the actual step-by-step process of publishing—and set realistic goals based on a good grasp of the facts.
Here is a site that contains links to articles about publishing fundamentals that you need to know to get your books published. If any of the titles of these articles seem unfamiliar to you, you may want to give them a quick skim before you dive into the publishing fray. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to take the business seriously first.
Step 3: Define your market. If you are unable to categorize your book, an agent won’t be able to either. An agent needs to know exactly which audience will be most receptive to your novel. Is it young adult? Erotica? Science fiction with a paranormal twist? Being able to define your genre will help your agent find an audience for it.
Step 4: Create a list of suitable agents. Based on your particular genre, you can narrow down the list of possible agents to those who represent similar work. There are several ways to do this:
· Trade journals and guides. Research directories that list literary agencies and publishers, such as the most current edition of Writer’s Market or Literary Marketplace. (Remember that these listings are often out of date by the time they hit the shelves, so verify contact information and agent interests before submitting anything.) Cross-check information as needed for verification.
· Word of mouth. Browse bookstores and find work similar to your own—sometimes authors will mention their agents in the acknowledgments section. Read book reviews and interviews with authors who publish in your genre—they often mention their agents by name.
· Networking. Ask other authors who have published work in your genre for agent recommendations, and, if at all possible, get a referral. Attend writers conferences and workshops where you can meet agents and successful authors. Writers groups can also be good networking opportunities.
· Internet. There’s a wealth of information online, but the Internet can also be a breeding ground for disreputable agents and unfounded gossip within the writing community. Do your research in advance to check on an agent’s background. How many books has the agent successfully published in the last year or two, and are they books you admire? Check out online writing forums for feedback, both good and bad.
Step 5: The perfect query letter. Once you’ve compiled a well-researched list of literary agents, arm yourself with a masterpiece of a query letter. The goal is to get the agent’s attention—ideally in the very first sentence—and make him/her eager to read more. Then, begin sending your query letters out, via mail or online submissions, to literary agents.
For more information on finding the best literary agent for your book project, see our article on How to Land a Literary Agent.
At Writer’s Relief we have been helping writers connect with agents since 1994, and we are happy to share what we’ve learned over the years. Sign up for our free monthly Submit Write Now! for more articles on writing and the publishing industry!